Winners of the October Fantastic Flashing Course

Sorry to be so late with this… life has been busy! But here now are the winners. Well done to all. Really looking forward to flashing with these talented writers. Our two winners get a free place and our two runners-up get a half price place on the October Fantastic Flashing Course. There are still a few places left if you would like to join us too…

Winner: Leaves, Witches and Wool by Jennifer Riddalls

Why I chose it: I loved the way the witch references were weaved through the story so naturally and how the autumn leave colours had been used. Deft little touches to give you an instant image of the people in the story. A sad story with a poignant yet hopeful ending.


We seven sat in a circle, like a coven of witches round a cauldron, staring at the basket of wool in the middle. The coiled yarn looked  stranded, heaped in shades of mustard yellow, burnt orange and maroon, like leaves ready for burning. We chatted, no one mentioning
Mary, or her empty chair, until her absence filled the room and she was all we could say.

Tears rolled down cheeks, fat droplets getting diverted by deep wrinkles and cutting through face powder. I wondered who would be next.

‘Remember Mary’s face when Katie suggested changing the name to Stitch ‘n’ Bitch?’ Sally said. Laughter briefly chased the sadness away.

While laughing the hall door opened and we turned, fully expecting Mary and her grey helmet-like hair, but instead her left-behind-husband came stooping in bearing half-finished knitting projects. He took Mary’s chair. I thought he’d come to give them away, but instead he said, ‘Can you teach me to finish these? They’re for the family, at Christmas.’

We ignored the crack in his voice and Sally handed him some needles. Finally, the spell was broken and we dipped into the wool.


Winner: Behind the Beauty by Jan Brown

Why I chose it: Because initially it just seemed like it was going to be a celebration of the wonder of nature and then the final lines gave it a real sting in the tale and emotional resonance.


Her drive to work was on autopilot. There were exceptions. May meant slowing down, the occasional swerve and the sheer delight at catching flashes of blue, swathes secreted in the woodland edging the route. Bluebells never failed to lift her spirits, as good as spotting the first

October was less hazardous because Nature brazenly flaunted its beauty. Every stretch was lined with falling leaves, naked tree trunks standing isolated in vast puddles of crisp gold, bronze and yellow leaves anyone would yearn to kick through. Invariably she’d recite the Ode, sometimes aloud, never getting further than ‘the vines that round the thatch-eaves run.’ The lines were lost but the lush, voluptuous Autumn of Wordsworth stayed with her.

Then came the canopy, a mile or more where the car seemed to plunge into a tunnel roofed with glorious colour, particularly if sunbeams penetrated the dense foliage. Surely there was no greater beauty than this gift of scarlet fire and copper? But her mind would go back: trapped in her car, her unborn child crushed by a fallen tree. Autumn signified dying and the inevitability of death, no
matter how spectacular its colour. With Autumn came her darkness.

Runner-Up: Second Childhood by Claire Jenkins

Why I chose it: Great image of children foraging like squirrels at the start to contrast with a story about aging and getting trapped in the way of life that adulthood brings, that then becomes something hopeful again at the end.


Leaves crunch under my feet, a beautiful carpet of gold and red and brown. All around me children are foraging like squirrels for prize-winning conkers. I smooth down my jacket, straighten my scarf. Avert my eyes.

A boy bumps into me as he rushes past. “Sorry, ma’am.”

I wince. Coffee has sloshed around the rim of my environmentally friendly, reusable travel mug. I wish I didn’t know how many calories were in hot chocolate. With marshmallows and whipped cream, of course.

A lifetime ago, we read a story at school where a man had transformed into a giant insect overnight. We’d laughed, my friends and I. Imagine waking up one day to find that you’re completely different! Ridiculous. My teacher had watched us with a strange look on her face. Here, amongst the excited children, I finally understand.

Ahead lies my sparse, clean office. Formal wear and leather suitcases. A life revolving around bills and taxes and mortgage repayments. A life where I’m a ‘ma’am’.

I turn back, take aim, strike. A shower of leaves fly through the air, their colours raining down on us. The conker hunters shriek in delight. I close my eyes and smile.

Runner-Up: Autumn Leaves by Malcolm Richardson

Why I chose it: I like how the title is used to signify the core of the story. How the story is set in the summer despite the autumn theme and how well it captures the excitement of a new affair that quickly fades.


Rachel’s boyfriends didn’t stay long; they came, they went, never seen again. Attractive, long-haired, she could maybe lose a pound or two, but who couldn’t?

She’d met him at the summer drinks party, a married man. A balmy July night, drinks flowed, they chatted freely. After a snog and a grope they exchanged numbers. He rang next day; arranged to meet for a drink. It ended at Rachel’s flat, a steamy session between the sheets. He left at two in the morning. Monday afternoon he rang, his wife didn’t understand him, needed to escape. On Wednesday he moved in, ‘just for a few days.’

August raced by, a stream of cosy meals out and all night encounters. By September things began to cool. The first flush of love and passion can be short-lived; extraordinary becomes familiar, routine. Differences develop into arguments.

His text read ‘might B L8.’ Midnight passed, darkness became dawn. She shuddered at the cooler chill of morning, mist hung from a dense, opaque sky. His side of the bed still cold, emptiness echoed through her mind. His heart had flown like a migrating bird to another woman’s bed.

Win a place on the October Fantastic Flashing course

Flash Fiction Competition

We love comps at Retreat West and we love flash fiction! So our latest competition is to win a place on the October 2018 Fantastic Flashing online course (15th to 28th). Designed and taught by me, it’ll get you creating oodles of new work, reading lots of flashes to learn about different styles, and I’ll give you feedback on a story at the end. Get more info on the course here.

To win a place on the course you have to write a flash story based on the prompt below and send by the deadline. Submit stories through Submittable using the button below.

Two writers will be chosen and they’ll both get a free place on the course. Two second place writers will get a half price place on the course.


Competition Prompt

Write a list of things associated with autumn and then pick three of them to build a story around.

1st Prize (two available)

A place on the October Fantastic Flashing course.

2nd Prize (two available)

A 50% discount on the October 2018 Fantastic Flashing course (so course costs  just £87.50)

All writers that enter will also receive a free ebook edition of the What Was Left anthology of winning stories from the 2016 RW Short Story and RW Flash Fiction Prizes and a £20 discount if they book on the September course (Retreat West Author Members will get the £20 discount on top of their already discounted course fee).

Entry Fee: £5

Deadline: 30th September 2018



Competition Rules

  • Submit stories written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.59 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included).
  • Do not include your name on the document or submission title but provide a short bio in the body of the email. All entries are read anonymously so any submissions showing the author’s name will be automatically disqualified.
  • Your story must not exceed 200 words. Entries that exceed the word count will be automatically disqualified.
  • The story must be based on the prompt and not have been published online or in print, or have won any other competitions.
  • By entering the competition you agree to take part in the September 2018 Fantastic Flashing online course if you win a free or discounted place.
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction and erotica. YA is allowed.
  • You can enter as many times as you like but all entries must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time.
  • The judge’s decision is final.
  • There are no alternative prizes.
  • Winners will be announced by the 7th October 2018.

Win a How To Write a Page Turner Course

Win a How To Write a Page Turner Course

We love comps that get you writing more! Our latest one is to win our new online course from Rose McGinty – How To Write a Page Turner. Something we all need to know! There are four prizes up for grabs.

The course will teach you about injecting urgency into your stories to keep your readers hooked, as well as how to create great characters, unforgettable dialogue and play with time to up the suspense. What you learn can be used to develop your short stories and novels.

So what do you have to do to win? Write a novel opening from the prompt…

Competition Prompt

Write a 200 word novel opening starting with this sentence: I read it in a book…

1st Prize (two available)

A 6-week online How To Write a Page Turner course with feedback from Rose on the story you create.

2nd Prize (two available)

A 6-week online How To Write a Page Turner course without feedback.

Entry Fee: £5

Deadline: 17th September 2018


Competition Rules

  • Submit novel openings written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.59 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included).
  • Do not include your name on the document or submission title but provide a short bio in the body of the email. All entries are read anonymously so any submissions showing the author’s name will be automatically disqualified.
  • Your story must not exceed 200 words. Entries that exceed the word count will be automatically disqualified.
  • The story must be based on the prompt and not have been published online or in print, or have won any other competitions.
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction and erotica. YA is allowed.
  • You can enter as many times as you like but all entries must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • There are no alternative prizes.
  • Winners will be announced in October 2018.

Winners of the Reunion themed flash competition

Themed Flash Competition: Reunion Winners

I’ve been reading the shortlist over and over again on different days, at different times, when I’m in different moods, seeing so much in all of them that made me dither over the runners-up repeatedly. But my top spot was never in any doubt from the very first reading. To all writers on the shortlist, well done. I hope to read more of your work soon.

Winner: Milk Chocolate. Grapes. Earthworm. by Michael Loveday

Why I chose it: This is stunning writing in a story that is both surreal and strange. It feels like a whole lifetime has been captured in these short, disjointed scenes yet it never feels like it is trying to do too much, which is so hard to pull off in flash. And the last line was so unexpected yet ends the story perfectly.

Read it here


Runner Up: Do You Remember Me? by Nancy Ludmerer

Why I chose it: I loved how the theme was played with here to reveal that the narrator no longer knew who she was after meeting up with an old college friend many years later. Words used skilfully to draw stark contrasts between who they had been and who they were now without it seeming like that’s what was happening. Clever stuff.

Read it here


Runner Up: Agape by Fiona Mackintosh

Why I chose it: Again, loved how the theme was used here to reflect a relationship gone awry. I was left questioning how long things had been like it and the atmosphere and descriptive writing is beautiful, cleverly foreshadowing what is to come.

Read it here



Congratulations to our winners.

You can see the shortlist for this competition here; and the longlist here. The blogs have now been updated with the author’s names.


There’s still almost a month to get your flash stories in for the next themed flash comp and be in with a chance of winning up to £400 and getting your story published on the website. The theme is Protest and the deadline is 30th September.

Our Retreat West Author Members get entry to the comps included as part of their benefits package, as well as a lots of other great stuff.

We hope to read your work soon!


Photo Flash Challenge #3: Finalists Announced

Photo Flash Challenge #3: Finalists


Update: Winner announced!

Thanks to everyone who either submitted an entry or voted! Well done to the overall winner, Jan Brown, with her story, Hot nights, neon lights. You’ll receive a £25 gift voucher and one free entry into a Quarterly Themed Flash Competition.

Names and bios of all the finalists have been added below. Once again, thank you to everyone that contributed, either by entering or voting!

We’ll announce the next Photo Flash Challenge in a few weeks so watch out for it on social media. As the last three challenges have used quite dark and ominous images, I think we’ll change it up next time and go with something ‘light and fluffy’!

A). Hot nights, neon lights by Jan Brown

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’ve run out of friends who’ll let you kip on their sofa. How I got here isn’t important. It’s temporary. Fact is, I’m dossing in a doorway, layers of cardboard cushioning the harsh, unyielding steps. It’s coolish, secluded and no-one’s moved me on yet. The flashing sign bugs me but, hey, it’s well lit so nobody’s robbed me and only one drunk has paused to piss. I doubt he even registered there was a human here.

They come, they go. Rooms by the hour. I leave them to it, uninterested. The girls, the boys are friendly enough now they know I’m not competition but they’re too focused on getting their johns inside to bother with me when they’re working. As for the punters, I’m invisible. Invisible is good but still hurts someone like me.

I yearn for elusive sleep. One eye opens incuriously when another cab arrives. Irina extracts herself elegantly. Love those shoes! She’s persuading her petulant john he won’t get recognised. He objects to the seedy hotel but her low sexy growl is irresistible and out he unfolds. Won’t get recognised? I curse my stupidity for flogging my mobile. I could have sold this to the papers: Sex Scandal MP! Unfortunately, I needed coke at the time. Tant pis.

I can’t settle. I recall his familiar face, his pompous voice. My mind’s racing, drawn inexorably to my car-crash of a life. I stay alert to watch him when he comes out, smug, sated, furtive. A cab draws up. Irina’s convincing him no-one’s around – obviously I don’t count. I’m buzzing. I want to see the expression on his face, for the hell of it. I unfold myself, run sweaty fingers through my hair and step into the light.

“Hey Dad.”


Author Bio: Jan Brown lives in West Yorkshire. She’s learning the discipline of Flash Fiction slowly but surely.


B). Sanctuary by Hilary Ayshford

The flickering sign cast a blood-red glow in the damp night air, promising respite and sanctuary. She was exhausted, although she had left home only two hours ago.

The hotel lobby smelt of sweat, damp clothes and stale cooking, but its cracked lino and peeling paintwork were reassuring: it was unlikely anyone would look for her here. The bloated, scruffy man at the desk barely looked up as she signed a false name in the register and handed over her cash.

He glanced briefly at the baby she clasped to her chest. “I hope that thing isn’t going to cry all night,” he grumbled.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “You won’t hear a peep out of him.”

The room was as shabby as she expected, the carpet threadbare and the bath stained with rust and limescale. Through the thin walls she could hear a television blaring on one side and two men arguing on the other.

She filled the wash basin with warm water, gently removed her son’s clothes and washed and dried him, before laying him carefully on the worn bed cover. He felt cold, so she swaddled him tenderly in her scarf and lay down beside him. She just wanted to hold him for one more night, and sleep without fear of what the next day would bring.

They would find her husband’s body in the morning, but not before she handed herself in at the local police station, offering her dead son’s battered body in mitigation.


Author Bio: Hilary Ayshford is a semi-retired business magazine editor and journalist, and after a long career writing scientific articles she is now giving rein to her creative side. She lives in Kent with her badly behaved Labrador, Morgan, where she writes, paints and walks, inspired by beautiful natural surroundings.


C). Crossroads by Jeanette Everson


Bright lights on the highway offer a wrong kind of promise.
Sudden neon, harsh against the hard grey night. Blurred edges of letters dance in a fuzz. Focus comes slower than understanding; we know what they spell out.
There. We’ll stop there.
I don’t want to. Irrational; without logic.
We have to. It’s too late to go on. Red lights flicker a Morse-like warning we can’t decode.


Shimmering lights beckon us. A bed. A roof. Respite from this deluge that delayed and enclosed us in this endless grey-dark that shrouds a road we no longer recognise. Anywhere; anywhere will do. I imagine that the wall of rain no longer lets us pass – are we have motionless, pressed up against it, the rain driving while we remain still?
There. We’ll stop there. We have to. It’s too late to go on.


Smudges of brightness break through the darkness – some kind of relief from this endless highway. Distorted letters we try to decipher through water. H? M? What does it matter? Either will do. The letters run down our windscreen like a blood-red river. We can’t see anything clearly. That signpost missed, the wrong turn, those directions begged from the bedraggled figure at the side of the road. Soaked through, he was; we should have offered him a lift.
We shouldn’t have, we remind ourselves. Don’t trust a stranger who looks like that.
There’s a place, he’d said, yonder. He’d waved an arm; spraying a fresh waterfall through the car window, opened only for directions but letting in more.
Ye can’t miss it. Ye sees it as the road turns. He leaned in. Mebbe I’ll see yous there. Winked, laughed, retreated into downpour, mingling with grey.

The road bends again; the lights change sides once more.


Author Bio: Jeanette was first published in Horse and Pony magazine at the age of ten. She’s striving to achieve equal accolade now she’s (allegedly) a grown up, and has a couple of flash fiction contest wins lying around somewhere (Publications include Grindstone Literary Beta Winner and Grindstone 500 Second Place; Shannon 101, and contest placings on Zeroflash and Retreat West.)
Jeanette runs her ceramics business from her home in rural Ireland, which she shares with her husband, her children, a steady stream of visitors from overseas, and far too many animals. She quite likes to shut the door on them all and write.

You can follow her on Twitter.


D). NO TRACES by Charlotte O’Farrell

Susan had cleaned up after so many suicides over the years, it felt like a normal part of her job. Almost.

It puzzled her why so many people ended their lives at the Pennyroyal Hotel, so far from anywhere and so nondescript. The final views these people enjoyed from their windows were not of idyllic forests, paradise beaches or iconic cityscapes, but of a declining small town high street – a standard commuter town.

Susan dusted the light fitting in Room 34, removing any mark that hinted at the belt that had been tied around it. This gentleman had been particularly thoughtful, as far as Pennyroyal suicides went. He left a pile of £20s with a brief note – “For the room”. There was no way to send on any change, though, as he had signed in under a false name. The officer investigating had Googled it. He’d borrowed it from a character in a little known novel; the character had thrown himself into the path of a bus, but survived.

She changed the sheets. They hadn’t been slept in or touched but the body had hung there for six hours, just a metre away. It felt right to change them.

She dusted the table. The police had already checked for fingerprints, both of the suicide and anyone else who might have been in the room with him. They hadn’t found any signs of anyone else and the unidentified dead man’s prints didn’t match any records.

Every surface was scrubbed, cleaned, dusted and polished. No sign that anyone had stayed there at all. Good as new. She turned off the lights and moved on to the next room on her list.


Author Bio: Charlotte O’Farrell has recently discovered the joys of flash fiction. At 29 years old, she is rediscovering her childhood passion for writing, having spent most of her 20s neglecting it. She lives in Nottingham with her husband, daughter and cat and works in marketing.


E). Wordplay by Laura Blake

Hotel. Five letters. Such a small, unassuming word, but it’s a good one. It has potential. Anything can happen in a hotel, especially a small, unassuming establishment tucked away in the less desirable part of town.

Five letters. Doesn’t sound like much, but you can have a lot of fun with a word like hotel.

Hot. It’s hot in my room, the safety latch on the window allowing nothing more than the slightest trickle of Chinese food-flavoured air to circulate the cramped space that’s barely large enough for the double bed. Despite the heat, our bodies come together, a tangle of limbs as our sweat soaks into to the questionably clean sheets. I lick her neck and taste her salted perfume. I want to take my time, enjoy it, enjoy her, but oh god, oh god-

Lot. It’s over. Anticlimactic, really, but there’s not a lot I can do about it now. I wanted her too badly, I say, by way of apology. It’s not exactly something I can control. She’s not interested in my apologies, but I try anyway. I’m almost embarrassed. She looks disappointed.

Let. Let me live, her body screamed. I don’t need to look in the bathroom mirror to know that she clawed her desperate pleas onto my back, raked the words into my skin, since she couldn’t open her mouth to speak, or to breathe.

Toe. It’s easy to slice off a toe and drop it, still warm, into my breast pocket. It will be some hours before she’s found, but I have no reason to linger. This particular place has served its purpose, and there are enough hotels, enough rat holes, in this city for me to find refuge in, until the need takes over again.

Hole. Something that needs to be filled.


Author Bio: Laura Blake is based in Birmingham and works in publishing. She writes short stories and flash fiction in her spare time and is attempting to master Italian.

You can follow her on Twitter.

Writing tips from Paul McVeigh

Writing tips from Paul McVeigh

Very happy to welcome Paul McVeigh to the blog today. Paul previously taught short story writing on a Retreat with Amanda and his debut novel The Good Son won the Polari Prize and the McCrea Literary Award. Paul is judging the 2018 RW Short Story Prize and Amanda got to ask him what he loves about the short story form.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the short form?

Read. Read the authors they love. Read like a writer – how did they make me tense, sad, surprised? Read authors you don’t like – what am I not seeing that others do? What can I learn for this?

What kinds of stories do you hope to see when reading the shortlist for the RW Short Story Prize?

I like to feel something when I read. I like to laugh too. Neither of these reactions are easy to achieve. Too often attempts are cringe-making – too bald or inorganic. Get it right and they win prizes. Though a fab of raw hyper-realism, I also like unusual stories and unnerving mysteries and sci-fi.

What short story do you wish you’d written and why?

I don’t think like that but I’ll play along and choose one of my favourite short stories – Foster by Claire Keegan. So moving and yet not sentimental at all – in fact it’s often brutal. It gets me every time.

Which short story writers writing today do you admire and why?

Claire Keegan for her class and skill and Carmen Maria Machado for her imagination.


Thanks so much, Paul.

You can follow Paul on Twitter and find out more about him via his website.

Now… Short story writers get writing and submitting your stories for Paul to read. The deadline is 28th October 2018. There is £820 in cash prizes available, and all winning and shortlisted stories will be published in the annual anthology by Retreat West Books.

You can find the previous anthologies What Was Left and (forthcoming) Impermanent Facts on Amazon. They’ll give you a great idea what we’re looking for and perhaps a little inspiration!

Join our author community and get lots of great stuff, including free copies of Retreat West Books as they are published. Join here.